By Lori Schweickert, MD | Pediatric & Adult Psychiatrist
You may have noticed from time to time a basket of overflowing empty medicine bottles (containers for liquid medicine, over the counter vitamins, or prescription bottles) of all kinds at 3-C Family Services.
But what exactly happens to all of these bottles?
For the past 15 years, the Medical Director of 3-C Family Services, Lori Schweickert, MD, has accompanied or led a team of medical professionals and others to developing countries in order to provide medical care to indigent people in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Thailand, Honduras, or Haiti.
In a typical year, Dr. Schweickert ventures out in the spring with a team from her church, where they join an already established clinic or ongoing project. On two other occasions, though, Dr. Schweickert has made a second trip to provide disaster relief; once to Thailand after the tsunami and once to Haiti after the earthquake.
“Haiti was definitely the most difficult trip, because there was so much physical and emotional trauma. In all my photos, the Haitian people look so tired and stressed. Each day, we encountered births, deaths, and everything in between,” Schweickert said.
Most of her trips are under better circumstances, though the settings are challenging for other reasons.
“We can’t always count on water or electricity, so we have to come prepared as best we can. The pill bottles are incredibly helpful, because we treat people who live in places where there are many children, and being able to dispense medicine in childproof containers helps keep people and medicines safe.”
Dr. Schweickert estimates that more than 5,000 pill bottles have been collected thus far. When the hamper gets full, the bottles are stored safely and readied for action by being wiped out when necessary, and nested inside one another to save space, when possible.
Dr. Schweickert’s team sees about 200 patients a day, on average. Many of them line up in the early morning hours and wait as long as they need to, but will also let others with more acute illnesses go ahead of them. Many of the pill bottles contain analgesics or vitamins, but anti-worm medicine, antibiotics, and antihypertensives are also common. Our entire mission team is impressed with the generosity of the 3-C patients, families, and staff for the donation of the bottles.
“We bring all the bottles we can carry, stuffing them inside every bin, suitcase, nook, and corner of our luggage allowance. They even travel inside shoes. Most of the time, we still run out of them,” Schweickert added.
Dr. Schweickert also gives a great deal of credit to the rest of the 3-C team.
“I am very grateful to the front desk staff for monitoring the hamper and helping empty it. My colleagues have always been incredibly supportive in providing coverage while I am away, and offer to help in other ways.”
Dr. Ritschel sponsored a nebulizer for the 2014 trip to Honduras, which was given to the parents of a child with terrible asthma.
“This little boy lived in the mountains, several hours from any medical care. No question, it will save his life one day,” Ritschel said.
Not all the stories of the pill bottles are so serious, though.
“One day, another doctor and I were walking through Congrejo, a small town in the Dominican Republic where we had been the year before. Someone recognized us and invited us in for coffee. On the table, we saw two pill bottles repurposed as salt and pepper shakers,” Schweickert said.
Dr. Schweickert plans to return to Honduras in March 2015.